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Filmmaker Merced Elizondo Wants to Destigmatize Mental Health in Latinx Communities

Julio César Cedillo (left) with director Merced ElizondoEXPAND
Julio César Cedillo (left) with director Merced Elizondo
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As a child, Merced Elizondo had an affinity for cinema. The Oak Cliff native found inspiration through interactions with his Mexican-American family, but didn’t really see much of himself reflected on screen. Now, the 26-year-old is committed to producing films with diverse casts and crews.

For his latest short film Manos De Oro, half of Elizondo's crew was made up of women. The cast was also almost entirely Latinx

“One thing that I knew for damn sure is that I wanted this film to feel authentically Mexican,” Elizondo says. “I knew that I wanted to find actors who could speak Spanish. I wanted it to be representative of my experience growing up.”

Manos De Oro tells the story of a man named Sergio, who works at a car repair shop. In his old age, Sergio develops arthritis in his hands, which impedes his ability to work. His son Fernando handles the shop’s operations, but when Sergio receives an opportunity, he decides he wants to work, despite his condition.

When writing Manos De Oro, Elizondo wanted to tell a tale of pride. The concept of machismo is a recurring theme in the film.

“There's a push and pull between Sergio and Fernando, and there's a tension that can be felt,” Elizondo says. “It really has to do with Sergio’s pride. I don't want to spoil the ending, but ultimately, it's a matter of them finding peace with one another again.”

Manos De Oro will compete in the 6th Annual Official Latino Film and Arts Festival from Nov. 27-30 for a spot to air via HBO’s streaming services. The film stars Julio César Cedillo from Narcos: Mexico as Sergio.

Elizondo made the connection with Cedillo after following him on Instagram. Cedillo followed Elizondo back two days later, and Elizondo messaged the actor asking for five minutes of his time. Over a phone conversation, Cedillo agreed to appear in the short film.

“He doesn't like when I say this, but he's changed my life, all for the better,” Elizondo says of Cedillo. “He’s become a mentor, a dear friend of mine and someone I want to continue to work with.”

Elizondo grew speaking Spanish at home in Oak Cliff. Through his work, he wants to represent his culture with authenticity.

The filmmaker knew he wanted to be involved in the creative process of filmmaking back when he was 12 years old, after his father came home with a bag of movies one day.

“They ranged from classics like Lawrence of Arabia to all the Disney animated movies," Elizondo remembers. "It was life changing, because that kind of took me on a path of watching cinema. The classics, the Disney movies, action, thrillers.”

While he was enamored with film, the idea of being a director seemed like a pipe dream. Elizondo didn’t really know of many Mexican-American film directors. To him, directors were “ethereal beings.”

He attended the University of Texas at Austin, where he studied advertising. In 2015, he took an internship in New York at NBC Universal. It was then, seeing the ins and outs of film production, that he decided to go after his filmmaking dreams.

“I realized, ‘OK, you know what? Everyone else seems to be following their passions and their dreams. Why am I not doing this?,’” Elizondo says. “That city has such an energy and I’m so grateful that I went, because I’m not sure if I would’ve gone on to follow my dream.”

When he returned to Austin for his senior year of college, Elizondo took another internship with a local film production company.

“Up until that point, I couldn’t tell the lenses apart,” Elizondo says. “I couldn't put up a light. I didn't know anything about cameras. I mean, I was just such a rookie. And I will be so grateful for the rest of my life to them because they gave me a chance.”

In 2018, when Elizondo was working on a short film called Just Lie Here, his father became ill. Although it took a toll on Elizondo, he used this as inspiration for Manos De Oro.

“Something just kind of clicked,” Elizondo says, “and I said, ‘You know what? There's something here. Let me dig. Let me internalize. Let me get personal.’ And it's the most personal I've ever gotten with my filmmaking. It’s not a biopic about my father, but it borrows a lot of elements from the truth.”

As a filmmaker, Elizondo hopes to continue to bring diverse stories to the screen. He is committed to hiring diverse cast and crew members, as a way to tell more authentic stories.

With Manos De Oro, Elizondo hopes to start a conversation about machismo and mental heath within the Latinx community.

“In the Latinx community, mental health is super stigmatized,” Elizondo says. “The minute you admit that you have anxiety, or that you have bipolar disorder, or that you have depression, it’s seen as a weakness, and it's seen as feminine. That’s such an atrocious way of thinking. It's incumbent on our generation to be able to understand and to be better.”

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